September 13th, 2016

The Wizardry of Jewish Women

My book is out and to celebrate, I blogged a recipe from it on my author's blog. I'm copying it here, for I suspect a few of you might be interested.

A group of enthusiastic cooks and lovely people are making recipes mentioned in my new novel, The Wizardry of Jewish Women. I almost always have recipes lurking beneath my fiction. Even my next novel (which I’m editing this week) contains food which I can cook, and it takes place off-planet! My new novel is set in Australia and I’ve borrowed and adapted over a hundred of my family’s recipes for it. When more recipes are out, I’ll put up a post with links. In the meantime, this is the culinary background to the box of forgotten recipes that appears in the novel. When you’ve read this blog entry you will know more about them than my characters do!

I was lucky with this novel. Very lucky. I’d been researching the difference between Anglo-Australian Jewish and Continental Jewish food because someone asked me to, way back. My family had found me many, many recipes to help with my research and I had the full oral history for them from two aunts and from a cousin. There were no missing years: both aunts had cooked the cuisine (and I’d eaten it at their houses) and my cousin is just enough older than me to know the bits they wouldn’t tell. When my aunt and my mother found recipes notes and even a handwritten cookbook, I had the stories to understand them and to interpret them. My food historian side, in fact, enabled me to work out exactly which bits came into the family and when. Stuffed Monkeys was a favourite dish of my father’s for instance, and they came into the family from the nineteenth century London Jewish community. You can find its history here. If enough people ask, I’ll make the recipe and give a documented version to you, just the way I’m about to do with Cornish meat rolls.

The thing about this cuisine is that it’s missing a lot of ‘standard’ Jewish dishes. Even those parts of the culture that came from Eastern Europe had been transformed, through London and then through Australia. It doesn’t come from Eastern Europe, in fact (though dishes poke their heads through from time to time and say “But I do!”): it is partly a southern English variant of Sephardi cuisine. It has lost many of its most Spanish elements, but maintained a lot of recipes that are easier to make with London and Australian ingredients. In their place one finds very familiar British dishes (like the Cornish Meat Rolls), some local oddities (like Stuffed Monkeys) and a few dishes that look very unJewish. They’re a part of the cuisine. Some of the older English Jewish food is kosher, and some enjoys its bacon. My grandmother knew how to cook all these dishes and according to some relatives she cooked them and according to others she didn’t. What I know for certain is that after my father married, she didn’t cook them for him, for he married into a very kosher-keeping family. This means that, from 1956, one whole strand of recipes was lost, just as, from the moment the family came to Australia (just under a century earlier) the more Sephardi dishes would have been lost.

If you want to know more about how I identified the London Sephardi origins (check my research, argue with it, etc) just ask for a copy of my paper.

I chose the Cornish Meat Rolls because I wanted to see if the family’s pastry can be made with olive oil (since I knew what it was like made with other fats). An olive oil pastry would be very good for my heart, I thought. The pastry was good with olive oil (rather good, in fact) but not perfect. It was too crumbly for my taste, but I’d still do it again, for it had a lovely aroma and if I can solve the crumbliness I have a pareve heart-healthy pastry that takes next to no time to make. I adapted the filling a bit and have put my replacements in brackets. This is because I’ve had this food in my childhood and have made it with dripping at my aunt’s. I wanted to adapt it into a modern Australian version.

The filling took me back to my childhood. The moment I tasted it I knew where it came from. It was tasty and stodgy both at once. Perfect for a Melbourne winter. Also, very easy to make. very hard to turn into something elegant. This is easy food for a big family, basically.

I took a picture, but seem to have lost it. You’re not missing anything. Think of big sausage rolls. Golden and clunky and full of filling. In fact, the filling spills out whenever it’s not properly sealed. The pastry is short and crumbly. I took one look at it and wanted to add tomato sauce and demolish it. I couldn’t get through it all (though I tried for three meals) and gave a slab to a hungry friend. Depending on how hungry the diners are, therefore, this will fill 3 to 6 people. Add chips and salad and it’s terrifyingly Australian.

And now for the recipe:

Cornish Meat Rolls:

¾ topside steak (I used low fat mincemeat)
1 onion
1 large potato
1 tomato
2 cups SR flour (or 2 cups plain plus raising agent)
pinch salt
¾ cup dripping (I used olive oil)
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper.

Remove fat from steak. Peel potato, tomato and onion, and put through mincer with meat or chop each very finely and mix together. Season with salt and pepper. That’s the original instructions. Me, I boiled my potato and peeled it and cut it finely. I added it to the mincemeat. I then chopped my onion and tomato coarsely and put them through the blender. Then I seasoned the mix. I mixed it until it held together very nicely.

Sift flour, salt and baking powder (or just the flour and salt if you sue SR flour!). Rub in dripping ( or olive oil – oil doesn’t rub in properly, so you need to watch the texture) and add water and lemon juice and mix to a stiff paste. Roll on floured board to oblong shape, about ¼ inch thick. Spread with mixture, and fold into a neat roll.

Bake in a moderate oven 40 to 50 minutes.